This problem of colour....

June 8, 2011

I’ve been speaking to an Indian friend of mine (we were LJ friends before we met face-to-face) and this friend’s choice of spouse is being heavily criticised by the parents…on the basis of that person’s “not being fair”. No, not “fair” as in “fair and kind and just”…it’s just that the intended spouse in dark-skinned. There seems to be no worry at all about what sort of a person this intended spouse is going to be….it’s as if a fair skin automatically brings with it intelligence, wisdom, and a loving personality!

You’d think that Indians, who are from of all parts of the dark-to-fair spectrum in the matter of skin colour, would be over this “fair” fetish by now…well. at least the educated urban people…but no, this “colour-complex” seems really deeply rooted in our pysche.

I’ve been trying to analyse why this should be so. Certainly, our invaders have been of fairer skins than the native peoples, so perhaps, over the centuries, “fair skin” has become equated to “better off” in the economical and social sense. But perhaps, it runs even deeper than this. Once, KM was on a train in Germany, and next to him sat a mother with a 2-year-old on her lap. There was no way that little toddler could have learnt any colour prejudice at that age…but when KM reached out to touch her, the little one shrank back from him.

So could it be that deep in our minds, “dark” is probably equated to “dirty” and “fair” to “clean”? “Fair” to “safe” and “dark” to “not safe”? I am still wondering.

I find that Indians abroad are even more colour-conscious and prejudiced. Surely, in a country where one IS perceived as a person of colour, what colour one or one’s spouse is, becomes unimportant? But no, it is not. When my grand-daughter was born, to an Indian and an American, the MOST frequent question after her birth was not how she was doing, but…“what colour is she?” I was very tempted to say, “Chess-squares” or “Zebra”….!

Morover, we have also learnt to be mealy-mouthed hypocrites about this whole colour prejudice. Someone told me once, “We never bother about the fact that our daughter-in-law is dark, we tolerate it.” This statement was made in all seriousness. So often, I come across people who mouth platitudes about “fairness is not important”…and then compliment a young mother on her child’s “fairness”..or console her, “It’s all right that your child is dark, her/his features are lovely!”

I have had, for many years, a moderate case of sun allergy, because of which my skin breaks into rashes (which may then weep and become infected) on exposure to bright sunlight. So I always wear a sun-hat and long-sleeved tops…and several people have remarked this, and said, “Oh, you don’t want to become dark!” I just laugh, and say, “I’ll only turn dark-er, not dark!”

No…I have no solutions, fair or lovely, or fair or handsome, to offer to this deep-seated problem (yes, it IS a problem when one’s acceptance is based on something one cannot control). It seems to be universal, or why would Michael Jackson look noticeably fairer (though much weirder) than when he started his career?

Well, anyway…excuse me while I get my sunblock and sunscreen and the rest, for fear that I should “tan”…and go, as my uncle once said, from “black to jet black”! Black? Did I say black? Of course I am not black, I have a…wheatish complexion, thank you very much!